The cenotaph in Alamo Plaza.
The Alamo Cenotaph will remain in place following a vote by the Texas Historical Commission to deny the City's request to relocate it 500 feet south. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The Alamo Cenotaph won’t move from where it currently sits in Alamo Plaza, a vote by the Texas Historical Commission determined Tuesday.

The 15-member commission voted 12-2, with one abstention, denying a request by the City of San Antonio to relocate the Cenotaph, a 20th-century monument to Texans killed during the 1836 Battle of the Alamo as they defended the site against a siege by the Mexican Army.

“Monuments to the fallen are placed where they fell,” commission Chair John Nau said ahead of the meeting, arguing against moving the Cenotaph outside of the walls Texas soldiers defended in the battle.

Nau voted against the relocation along with all other commissioners except for Wallace Jefferson and Earl Broussard, who voted yes, and the commission’s Vice-Chair John Crain, who abstained.

The decision is a serious blow to state and local officials pushing for a $450 million Alamo redevelopment plan. Officials with the City, Texas General Land Office, and the nonprofit Alamo Trust have said that moving the Cenotaph 500 feet south to a new location outside the Menger Hotel is vital to allowing the full redevelopment to go ahead.

Tuesday’s vote could foreshadow more contentious votes on the Alamo plan over the coming years. The agency, whose commissioners are appointed by the Texas governor, has authority over the Alamo that covers archaeological work, architecture, and the treatment of historic sites. Since 2017, the commission has already issued 10 permits related to the Alamo redevelopment, Executive Director Mark Wolfe said during the meeting.

Alamo officials are expected to apply for more than 60 additional historical commission permits through December 2025, according to U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Helotes). Hurd, who is not seeking re-election to Congress, joined the nonprofit Alamo Trust’s board earlier this year. During the meeting, he pointed to previous failed efforts to improve the visitor experience at the Alamo, most recently in the 1990s.

“The difference right now is the unique partnership between the City of San Antonio, the General Land Office, and the Alamo Trust,” Hurd said, adding that the project involves a commitment of more than $100 million from the State, $38 million from the City, and private donations through Alamo Trust “in the ballpark of $150 million.”

“We can’t let this historic moment pass us by,” Hurd continued.

Multiple commissioners and many of those who spoke against moving the Cenotaph rejected the idea that leaving the Cenotaph in place would kill the project.

“The Alamo plan is far too important to this commission, to our state, and to the City of San Antonio to suggest that the entire project depends on granting a single permit request,” Nau said at the meeting.

Ahead of the vote, San Antonio officials had pointed to a 2018 agreement between the City, which owns the Cenotaph and Alamo Plaza, and the Texas General Land Office, which owns the Alamo itself. Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) and Assistant City Manager Lori Houston told commissioners that the agreement requires the City to have the Cenotaph moved as part of the overall redevelopment.

At the meeting, commissioners questioned why the agreement tacitly assumed the commission would grant the relocation permit.

“I just feel like we’ve been put in an all-or-nothing position,” Commissioner Daisy White said during the hearing.

Tuesday’s proceedings lasted around nine hours, with more than 300 people signing up for public comment. Many people had issues connected to the videoconference, so only about a third of those who signed up were able to speak.

Moving the Cenotaph is only one piece of the overall Alamo plan, which calls for the preservation of the Alamo’s Church and Long Barrack, reclaiming more of the historical footprint of the 1836 battle, and creating a museum and visitors center that places the site in its historical context.

However, the relocation of the Cenotaph, a 1930s monument by sculptor Pompeo Coppini, became a political flashpoint as the first phase of redevelopment began last year. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick emerged as a champion of those calling for the monument, commemorating the Texans who died during the 13-day siege, not to be moved an inch from where it currently sits.

“It was the most important 13 days in the history of Texas and Western civilization,” Patrick said. “We wouldn’t be in the Texas we’re in today if it weren’t for those men who died.”

In a statement after the vote, Houston offered no assurances that the project would continue, writing that the City “worked in good faith” with the GLO, Alamo Trust, and the public “to do something truly transformational with this iconic site.”

“Unfortunately, after tonight’s disappointing vote to deny the restoration and relocation of the Cenotaph, the Alamo Master Plan remains a plan without a project,” Houston continued. “For the moment the answer to the question of many Alamo visitors – ‘Is that all there is?’ – remains a resounding yes.”

In many ways, the debate over the Cenotaph became a debate over how visitors to the Alamo should understand the site. Should the main focus be on a group of revolutionaries, or should visitors come away with a sense of the Alamo as a crossroads of Indigenous, Spanish, African, and Anglo cultures that developed over centuries?

Treviño told commissioners ahead of the vote that moving the Cenotaph is essential to create “a world-class comprehensive destination that tells the complete story of the Alamo area” over its 300 years of history from the Spanish colonial era, through Texas’ war for independence from Mexico, to the emerging multi-ethnic community that evolved into modern-day San Antonio.

“The Cenotaph plays a supporting role in that history, but it’s not the focus of the project,” Treviño said. “Unfortunately, for many, the Cenotaph is imbued with more significance than the Alamo itself.”

Tuesday’s vote was originally billed as a choice among three options: moving and restoring the Cenotaph, leaving it alone, or restoring it in its current location. However, Wolfe said “the City has made it very clear” that restoring the Cenotaph in place is “not something they’re willing to consider.”

That’s because restoring the monument where it currently stands would require demolishing its concrete foundations that extend underground, Houston said. Doing so would cause vibrations that could threaten the 296-year-old Long Barrack, she said.

In a statement late Tuesday, Alamo Trust officials said it will work with “partners at the [GLO] and the City … to evaluate our options as we move forward.”

“While we are disappointed in the result of the … decision today, we will remain dedicated to preserving the story of the Alamo defenders,” the Trust stated. “The Alamo Trust will stay focused on educating the public on the history of the Alamo.”

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.